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HOW WELL did the world’s greatest consulting detective know Japanese gentle arts of self defense? Indeed, the nearest that Holmes ever got to Japan was during his hiatus that included a Tibetan visit after battling Prof. Moriarty at Switzerland’s Reichenbach Fall.

However, in Dr. John H. Watson’s chronicle of “The Adventure of the Empty House,” he quotes Holmes describing the Moriarty encounter, “We tottered together upon the brink of the fall. I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me.”

Baritsu eh? It’s likely Holmes actually said “Bartitsu.” What follows here, gleaned from several sources, is a description of this latter Gentlemanly Art of Self Defense. One source in this regard is Leslie S. Klinger’s The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories (2 Vol. Set), W.W. Norton, 2005.

E.W. Barton-Wright was an English railway and mining engineer who spent three years in Japan, 1895–1897, as part of this country’s Meiji era assimilation of western ways. In turn, Barton-Wright learned the Japanese martial arts of jujitsu and judo before returning to England in 1898.

Edward William Barton-Wright, 1860–1951, English entrepreneur of self defense, physical and electrotherapy. The inventor of Bartitsu.

Barton-Wright’s 1899 article “How to Pose as a Strong Man” gave details of the mechanical and leverage principles of Japanese martial arts. In 1900 London, he opened the Bartitsu Academy of Arms and Physical Culture, Bartitsu being a blend of jujitsu, British boxing, French savate kickboxing, and the Swiss art of la canne, defense by walking stick. He concocted the word from Barton and jujitsu.

Bartitsu became all the British rage for a few years, with exhibitions and competitions held throughout the country. Barton-Wright expanded the Academy’s offerings to include physical therapies. Wikipedia notes that these included “breathing exercises under the tuition of Mrs. Kate Behnke” and even electrotherapy machines.

Bartitsu lady. Image from Loose Lips.

British suffragettes during this time became adept at Bartitsu in their tussles with police. There was even Suffragetto, described as “An Original and Interesting Game of Skill between Suffragettes and Policemen, for Two Players.”

Image from Bartitsu Canada.

Barton-Wright was apparently more adept at Bartitsu than with its business model. The Academy closed in 1902. Yukio Tani, one of the school’s instructors, transformed his expertise into becoming a professional music-hall wrestler. Others opened their own self-defense and combat-sports gymnasia in London.

Barton-Wright continued his interest in physical and electrotherapy for the rest of his career, albeit not always successfully. He lost money, for example, on an electrical display planned for an Amsterdam music hall. He died, age 90, in 1951 and is buried in an unmarked grave in Surrey, England.

Barton-Wright’s art of Bartitsu experienced a revival of sorts in 2002. Loose Lips Magazine describes how today’s Academie Duello in Vancouver, Canada, includes Bartitsu in its curriculum of martial arts. There’s also an entertaining video of Bartitsu and Barton-Wright’s life posted by the Bartitsu Society.

It’s a pity that chronicler Watson misspelled it. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018

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